On Typos and Professionalism

This afternoon, I checked out a pretty sweet Kickstarter for a graphic novel. The story seemed interesting, the art was gorgeous, and the buy-in was pretty decent. I really liked the project.

I almost backed it, but one thing stopped me.

The Kickstarter page was riddled with typos and poor punctuation.

When I’m backing a project, I want to know that the quality will be the best it can be. When I’m creating one of those projects, I want to make sure that my backers get the best possible thing. Anything less is a problem.

We all make errors, sometimes in highly-visible, embarrassing places. Everyone has a story or ten about typos. Lord knows that a recent project has two errors that I’m mortified about. But I do my best to prevent them, because, as a writer, editor, and publicist, I make my living with words, and that means that I am judged by my words.

We’ve moved out of the exciting, fresh days of Kickstarter. Most of us have backed more than a few projects, and many of us have gotten burned, somehow. Backers typically also have limited budgets, and Kickstarters aren’t usually cheap. It’s more of an uphill battle for pledges than ever, and everything has to be just right.

There are several hurdles to overcome in the quest to earn pledges. When I put together a Kickstarter page for a publishing project, my words literally make the difference between success and failure.

Step 1: First look: Is it pretty? Does it immediately capture their interest? Do they want to look at more? This is a combination of the visual elements and the first hooks.

Step 2: The overview. They think it looks cool, but now they want to find out if it’s something they really want.

Step 3: The critical judgment (sometimes overpowered by the shiny). The visual and informative elements are now combining to give your project a total sum. There’s a tipping point between ‘yes’, and ‘no’, and from there, it’s a matter of how much they’ll be pledging, which is also complicated algebra dependent on your page.

All of the steps are complicated and important, but they can all be undone by one little element: poor execution. Bad spelling, poor punctuation, clunky language, or inconsistent formatting can completely ruin all the other amazing things you’ve done with your project. It introduces an element of doubt: “If they don’t care about proofreading this important, public-facing thing, will they care about the project once I’ve given them money?”

There are so many battles to fight on the road to create a successful project. Don’t sabotage yourself by neglecting the most important details.

The Birth of an Anthology

Travis Heermann has been a freelance writer since 1999. Publishing credits include dozens of magazine articles, role-playing game content for both table-top and online MMORPGs, short fiction. He is the author of five published novels to date, with the latest being Sword of the Ronin from Red Bear Publishing. For more information, check out his website: www.travisheermann.com.


Back in March this year, I got bitten by a very strange bug.

I was attending a workshop on professional anthologies put on by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. There were roughly thirty attendees, plus two Kris and Dean and two editors, John Helfers and Kerrie Hughes. The objective while there was to write stories for two live anthologies edited by John and Kerrie; How to Save the World and Hex in the City,—a hard SF and an urban fantasy anthology, respectively, that were part of the Fiction River publishing launch year, each of which also boasted its own list of invited pros.

Over the course of four days, we got to watch four editors at work; John and Kerrie, plus Dean, wearing his Pulphouse editorial fedora, and Kris revisiting her Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction editorial chapeau. This was not a critique workshop; it was four editors discussing whether they would buy a given story for their particular publications, each of which has very different audiences and expectations. Those stories that got picked (my story “Deus Ex Machina” was selected for How to Save the World) would be published in the two anthologies. They discussed each story in front of the class, their reactions to it, where they may have stopped reading, etc. This was a huge lesson and an eye-opener for many in the class: to hear an editor react to one’s story in real time, and hearing where the rejection happened.

One of the things that I found most interesting was how my own opinions of each story jibed with theirs (or didn’t). In the end, I came away with the feeling that my own assessments were generally spot-on with theirs.

And I came away with one other thing: that weird bug.

I wanted to try it myself.

So for about five months, my brain percolated on various anthology ideas, from horror to science fiction to weird westerns. Maybe you’re familiar with that morass of amorphous ideas that just squelch around inside your skull, like something waiting to solidify.

I also started thinking about the kinds of stories I would love to read, the kind of stories I’ve been missing in science fiction and fantasy over the last 10-15 years. And that is, in a nutshell: fun stuff. That sense of wow and wonder that set my little writer brain on fire when I was a kid. I sometimes think that the SF/F fields have been trying so hard to become “legitimate,” “literary,” and “serious” that we’ve forgotten what inspired us. That sense of whiz bang, the kind of story which at the end leaves you thinking, “Now that was cool.”

As an editor of this yet unformulated anthology, it was my role to decide what I thought was cool, with the idea that there might be plenty of people out there who agree with me. So this led to an inventory of the things that really excite me, that make great stories, great drama, and great heroes and heroines. Mad Max, Maverick, The Dukes of Hazzard, Death Proof, The Road Warrior, Casino Royale, The Wild, Wild West (the TV series, not the awful movie)—these were the things going around in my head.

I’ve always loved muscle cars, hot rods, and sports cars. I grew up at the small-town racetrack in the summertime. My brother is a dirt-track race driver, and I’ve done a few races myself behind the wheel with my foot to the floor. There’s nothing in the world like it.

I’m a poker player. I discovered how much I loved it in 2006 and started playing tournaments. I grew up playing cards with my family. I also had a ten year stint playing collectible card games like Jyhad, Legend of the Five Rings, and Warlord, among others. I am fascinated by the Tarot.

I’m a history buff, fascinated with both black powder firearms and the super-advanced tech being developed today. I’m also fascinated by the way firearms have had such a profound impact on civilization and history. I’m a guy (i.e. twelve-year-old boy). I love to feel the recoil and concussion. I like to blow shit up.

One alliteration later, I had the title and the concept: Cars, Cards & Carbines.

The next step was to find an experienced editor to show me the ropes. For that, my first choice was John Helfers. In addition to the story he bought from me for How to Save the World, I had worked with him when he was at Tekno Books when he bought the first volume of my Ronin Trilogy, and then again with the second volume I indie-published earlier this year. I ran into him at DragonCon this year, we had a discussion over an adult beverage, he thought the concept was pretty darn cool, and just like that, an anthology was conceived.

Between the two of us, we have assembled an incredible line-up of award-winning and best-selling authors who also think the concept is pretty darn cool.

Nevertheless, while Cars, Cards & Carbines has been conceived, it has not yet been born. We need you, yes, you personally, dear Reader, to help us bring this anthology to life. Please support our Kickstarter project. We have until December 19, 2013, to make this happen. Thank you!

Cars, Cards & Carbines – Multi-Genre Fiction Anthology

Kickstarting Success or Failure

Monday’s general ‘blah’ has matured into full-fledged head cold, exacerbated by the smoke machines at the industrial music show I managed last night…and definitely not helped by the after party. Or the fact that I smacked my head into a wall in the act of sitting down, after successfully not dying during self-defense training. Do they teach self self-defense?

All that kind of pales against the main event today: the War Stories Kickstarter funded, so I have an anthology to create now! But because that’s fresh on my mind, I want to talk a little bit about the processes and stresses of Kickstarter and crowd-funding.

1.) Pretty much every religion says that God(s)(esses)(etc) helps those who help themselves, and Kickstarter is much the same way. Being prepared before you ever hit ‘launch’ is essential. Know your stretch goals, your reward levels, your updates, everything. It will save a lot of scrambling later.

2.) Ask for feedback. Talk to people who have run Kickstarters before, and run your projects past them. They’ll catch a lot of issues and point out weaknesses to you.

3.) Know your subject. Are you doing something that’s going to just hit all the right buttons, like Geek Love? Or something that will potentially ostracize the majority of the potential audience? War Stories was like that. We heard accusations of xenophobia, Conservative bias, liberal bias, anti-feminism, pro-feminism (as a bad thing), and more, from both sides of the aisle. We left a lot of money on the table because we flat-out said we wanted to do something provocative and new, but we knew that and spent a lot of time talking about and addressing it.

4.) Talk. Throw yourself out there. Get on podcasts, blogs, news sites, anything you can, but be sure you spread yourself out over the course of the Kickstarter.

5.) Be grateful. Engage, talk to, thank, interact with your backers.

6.) Budget time every day to deal with your Kickstarter every day. Go through your backers, check what levels are most popular, and make sure there aren’t any questions in the comments section that need to be answered. At the end of the Kickstarter, budget some time to push through the last couple of days. Use that extra excitement as an excuse to post a little more often.

7.) Budget time after the Kickstarter, to take some time off from the promotional grind. Let your backers know that you’re going to be gone for a while, and then just sit back and get out of the madhouse of constant promotion. Don’t let the momentum die off, just enough time to take a deep breath.

8.) Know your needs and limits. Every project is unique. For Geek Love, we were only doing as many books as our backers pre-ordered. War Stories will be available for sale long-term through our publisher though, so it’s a totally different sort of push. People can wait for the reviews to come out to make their decision. That means we don’t get as much money, but also that the project has a longer life.

9.) Deadlines deadlines deadlines. Don’t set hard and fast deadlines unless you know you can hit them, but don’t just say ‘hey, it will happen when it happens’. Give your backers an idea of when to expect things, and then stay in touch with them so they feel connected and engaged.

10.) Know your audience…and your money. Kickstarter is, in a way, the ultimate in social media roulette. You’ve got plenty of opportunities, but you have to leverage them, too. Your reach is a complicated algorithm of social capital, reach, professional history, reputation, project, and half a dozen other things. Some creators have a few hundred dollars available to them, others have a few hundred thousand. So spend time researching projects similar to yours, and pay attention to whether their creators are fan favorites or completely unknown.

11.) Prepare for success, be ready for failure. The odds are against you. Most Kickstarter projects fail, so every single success is against the odds. I’ve been fortunate, and every project I’ve been involved with–as project lead or advisor–has succeeded, but that’s entirely because of hard work, luck, and knowing the audience the project would appeal to.

So, there’s that. I can’t tell you how to create a successful project. I am more cognizant than ever of how amazing my friends are, and how lucky I am. Tomorrow, I’m going to spend part of the day talking to Andrew about the next steps of the project, and then I’m going to take a couple of days off of promotional things. Beer and football with my boyfriend and his buddies on Monday, maybe, and my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class later in the week. Stuff away from the computer, you know?

Oh, yeah, that’s the other thing: just admit now that you’ll just be sitting in front of the computer and compulsively hitting ‘refresh’ for however many days the thing is running. So lay in supplies, and plan for carpal tunnel, insomnia, and weight gain.

12 for ’12: Writing a Dozen Books a Year

Matt Forbeck is an award-winning game designer and freelance writer living in Wisconsin.  In addition to being one of the nicest guys in the business–in any business–Forbeck sets a new standard for diversification.  He’s designed collectible card games, role-playing games, miniatures games, board games, and logic systems for toys and has directed voice-over work and written short fiction, comic books, novels, screenplays, and computer game scripts and stories.


Last spring, I had this crazy idea that I could write a dozen novels in a year. I spent much of my summer chatting with friends about it and hoping that one of them would do the right thing and talk me down from that ledge. Instead, as I explained it in greater detail, they lined up to either encourage me to jump or to push me off.

Maybe they just wanted to watch the show, which was guaranteed to be a fantastic stunt or a total car wreck, complete with blazing tires flying into the helpless crowd. Either way, it worked.

I’m a fast writer, and I’ve been at it full-time for a long time: twenty-three years this summer. When I’m on a writing roll, I can knock out 5,000 words in a day without too much sweat. Tackling a novel the size of a National Novel Writing Month book — about 50,000 words — then should only take me about 10 days, right? That’s short compared to most novels these days, which often clock in around 80,000 to 100,000 words, but it still qualifies as a novel by just about any major award committee, for which the cutoff is usually 40,000 words.

So, technically I could do it. The trouble was I couldn’t afford to just take off a year to write a dozen books, as much fun as that might sound. I’m the father of five kids, including a set of quadruplets, and my wife’s salary as a school social worker alone can’t cover our bills. It seemed my insane dream might be grounded on account of finances, but then Kickstarter came along.

Kickstarter is a popular crowdfunding platform on which creators can post a pitch for a project and ask for pledges. If you hit your goal, you set to work. Otherwise, everyone gets to walk away, no harm done. I’d seen a couple friends have big hits there with their roleplaying game projects, so I thought I’d give it a try with the first trilogy of books for my 12 for ’12 project: Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World, based on an RPG I wrote back in 1999.

We beat the goal and raised over $13,000, and I set to work. A couple months later, I launched a second Kickstarter for a new trilogy of fantasy noir books I wanted to write, set in a world I call Shotguns & Sorcery. That raised almost $13,000 too.

This week, I launched the third Kickstarter in the series, this one for a trilogy of thrillers called Dangerous Games, set at Gen Con, the largest tabletop gaming convention in this hemisphere. Will it fly too? I’ll let you know in about a month.

The real question, of course, is how the writing went. I managed to complete the first three novels on time, but then fell ill for a week at the end of April. (Having all these school-age kids around provides lots of disease vectors.) That bumped me wrapping up that novel into the start of May. Still, I got it done and had time to move on to my next novel — which is actually a full-sized tie-in based on the Leverage TV show that I’m still hoping to finish this month.

Meanwhile, I revised the first novel and got the ebook out to my backers in April. That means I took a novel from an outline to a published book in under four months. The others are underway as well, and I just this week released the first ebook — Brave New World: Revolution — to the general public too. So far, I’m thrilled with the results.

Note that I’m self-publishing the books. No publisher would touch a plan like this. It’s too crazy, it involves too many books from a single writer, and it would be impossible for them to release the books so fast. That’s why I had to do it myself.

Of course, I wanted to do it myself. I’ve been eyeing self-publishing for a while now, having been a game publisher myself back in the late ‘90s. I’ve seen a number of my author friends do well at it, but mostly because they were able to bring old titles back into print.

I’ve had 16 novels published before this, but 13 of them were tie-ins for things like Dungeons & Dragons and Guild Wars, which meant the rights to those books would never revert to me. The only way I could build up a critical mass of titles to publish myself would be to write them, and I didn’t want to have to wait for the years that might take to pull off.

So I decided that this would be the year instead. So far, so good.